Ford Motor Co. is looking to accelerate the slow trickle of hybrids dribbling out of its Kansas City, MO, assembly plant, but claims to be hamstrung by a battery shortage.

The auto maker, currently producing the Escape Hybrid cross/utility vehicle at the rate of 20,000 units per year, plans to launch at least four more hybrids by the end of the decade, but the company's chairman and CEO says it could sell more now if supplies of the most essential component were increased.

Ford wants more batteries.

“We're trying to get more batteries out of our supply base,” Bill Ford Jr. says, addressing a litany of environmental concerns raised during the auto maker's annual shareholders meeting.

He insists Ford could sell more hybrids if it could get the essential batteries, which cost an estimated $2,000-$3,000 per unit.

“As Bill said, if we can get more parts we could sell more – and we are going to grow that business,” Ford President and Chief Operating Officer Jim Padilla says.

Help could be on the way, if the ambitious plans of the auto maker's battery supplier come to fruition.

Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. is Ford's sole provider of the Escape's 330-volt battery pack. The Japanese supplier in February said it would spend more than ¥1 billion ($9.36 million) to double its output of hybrid batteries to 2 million per month by the middle of 2006, according to a Reuters report.

Ford and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. are Sanyo's hybrid battery customers, buying about 200-250 individual nickel-metal-hydride batteries to power a hybrid. The Osaka-based electronics firm aims to own half the hybrid battery market in years to come, competing with the likes of Toyota Motor Corp. supplier Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. – reportedly the largest NiMH batter supplier.